Breadth Requirement


Analysis of Algorithms is the core of Computer Science, which unites the many disparate subfields.  All PhD and DES students are expected to complete an acceptable lecture course (graduate or upper-level undergraduate) in Analysis of Algorithms, with grade B+ or higher, prior to entering the program.  However, we permit students who have not already satisfied the Analysis of Algorithms prerequisite prior to enrollment to take CSOR 4231 at Columbia as part of the Breadth Requirement.  The prerequisite must be completed by the end of the first year in the program. Note the only course offered here that satisfies this requirement is CSOR 4231.

[Instituted by full faculty vote April 23, 2014, modified by full faculty vote September 16, 2015.]


Every PhD and DES student must complete a distribution requirement consisting of four graduate lecture courses taken here at Columbia.   There must be one course each from the approved course lists for Theory, Systems, and AI & Applications, plus one additional course chosen from any of the three approved course lists.  In the case where a student takes the Analysis of Algorithms prerequisite here (CSOR 4231) rather than at another institution prior to enrollment, then it satisfies the Theory distribution requirement.  PhD and DES students may complete any or all of the distribution courses via only the course’s cumulative final exam, if it has one, without formally enrolling in the course.  Instructors are not obligated to provide a cumulative final exam suitable for students not enrolled in the course.

Approved distribution courses:

Area Approved Courses*
Theory All COMS 42xx courses plus CSOR 4231
Systems All COMS 41xx courses except COMS 4121, COMS 416x and COMS 417x
All COMS 48xx courses
COMS 4444
The following crosslisted courses also count toward the Systems breadth requirement: CSEE 4119, EECS 4340, CSEE 4823, CSEE 4824, CSEE 4840, CSEE 4868
AI & Applications All COMS 47xx courses except COMS 4721 and COMS 4776
All COMS 416x and COMS 417x
CBMF 4761

*IMPORTANT NOTE: The only joint-CS courses permitted are as specified, all other distribution courses must be strictly “COMS”. Regardless of the course number, courses labeled “certificate only” or named “xxx for Data Science”, or similar, may not be applied to the doctoral breadth requirement.

[Instituted by full faculty vote, 4/4/14, to replace the core.  Effective in Fall 2014.  Students who first enrolled in Spring 2014 or earlier may substitute the old “core” for the distribution requirement. ]


In addition to the distribution requirement, all PhD and DES students must pass a total of six (6) elective graduate (4000 level or above) lecture courses, each three (3) or more points.  Most COMS or jointly offered with COMS (e.g., CSEE, CSOR) courses are acceptable as CS electives.  At most two (2) electives may be outside CS, and only CS courses may be “imported” from another institution rather than taken at Columbia.  All electives require the advisor’s approval.  However, courses labeled “certificate only” or named “xxx for Data Science”, or similar, may not be applied to the breadth requirement.

[Revised by full faculty vote, 11/6/13. Effective immediately.]


The minimum passing grade for PhD and DES students in both distribution and elective courses is B+; the average grade across all breadth courses must be A- or higher.  The Doctoral Pass threshold applies to both Columbia courses and imported electives. Courses may be retaken in a later semester, or a different course substituted, with the highest grades used to compute the average.


Satisfactory progress towards fulfilling the breadth requirement is defined as at least 2*N breadth course/exam passes, where N is the number of semesters enrolled thus far in the program, until the breadth requirement has been completed.

[Revised by full faculty vote on 12/18/08.]

A PhD or DES student who has not made satisfactory progress towards the breadth requirement is normally placed on probation at the end of the first and/or subsequent semesters that he/she “falls behind”. The student can be immediately dismissed from the program at the end of any such unsatisfactory semester unless the full faculty accepts a petition from the advisor for one semester’s grace.


Completion of the Analysis of Algorithms prerequisite together with all four distribution courses constitutes completion of “the qualifier”.

[Added by full faculty vote, September 16, 2015.]


Last updated on September 18, 2019.